5 Mistakes Made by Chromatic Harmonica Players

I would like to talk about five most common mistakes made by harmonica players.

1) Blowing and Inhaling too hard 

Most likely, after you’ve picked up a harmonica for the first time and started playing the first bottom notes, you probably thought it was broken and you were ready to ship it back. Well, it was probably your drawing technique which wasn’t right. This is what happens when you draw more air than necessary and as a result, you’ll end up choking the reed and over-stressing it. My piece of advice is to start out playing gently, breathe naturally, relax and use less air.

2) Having the harmonica too far from your lips

If you hear a windy sound coming out when you breathe in, it simply means that the harp is too far from your lips and the air can escape out. That’s why your lips should overlap a good part of the cover plate to create a tight fit.

Here is a very simple tip to implement right away and improve your sound and single note technique. Try to blow as many holes as possible at the same time, then slowly push out your lips until you finally hear a single note. After doing this exercise a few times you’ll remember the shape you had to form with your mouth. Always keep the same lips shape when blowing, drawing and moving from one hole to another. If you open a bit too much you’ll blow or draw into the adjacent notes.

3) Gear is secondary

I see a lot of people spending too much time focusing on which harmonica, microphone or amplifiers to buy. No expensive harmonica will replace hard work and will surely not provide any shortcuts. Though it’s a joy to possess a beautiful instrument, just know that it will not make you a better musician.

My advice is to focus on the stuff that really matters. Get a decent chromatic harmonica, it doesn’t matter if you chose Suzuki, Hohner, Eastop or Seydel, they are reliable brands. Work on your sense of rhythm, learn new tunes, expand your knowledge of harmony, theory and play with other people. 

4) Over-focusing on harmony and melody 

One of the major difficulties we go through when playing jazz harmonica is to play a regular stream of eight notes. It’s easy to rush and lose the pace as we alternate between drawing and blowing notes. You’ve probably heard it from me in another post. So I’ll say it again: rhythm and time is of the essence. side note: “Time is of the Essence”, is a Michael Brecker album released in 1999. It is one of my favorite organ quartets.

5) Missing a note is okay

Don’t get exasperated if you miss a note. The harmonica might be the only instrument you play blind! You cannot see the notes, just “feel” where they are. If you have missed a hole, keep your harmonica in place and adjust accordingly. In other words keep breathing in or out and move the harmonica slowly to the right (lower note) or left (higher note.) Remember to always push your lips outward to play a single note. It’s only through hours of practice and memorization exercises that you will master the instrument. But the journey is amazing and with my guidance, there will be no boundaries.

If you liked this article you might want to read My Top 5 Toots Thielemans Albums

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